Deaths Reported In Riot After Baluchi Fuel Mules Killed In South-East Iran
Videos posted on Twitter on Tuesday [February 23] show security forces using tear gas against hundreds of protestors outside the office of the city governor of Saravan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province, south-east Iran. Social media posts suggest these videos were taken Monday as family members of cross-border ‘fuel carriers’ allegedly killed by security forces stormed the governor’s office.
The protestors torched buildings and a police car, and forced their way into the government building where they set fires and destroyed furniture. In one video protesters in Baluchi attire can be seen inside a hall, presumably of the governor's office, chanting in local language and booing.
Malek Fazeli, who represents Saravan in the Iranian parliament, told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Tuesday that three people had died and others had been hospitalized. He denied reports that the governor's office had been taken over and said the governor remained at his post.
The protests followed at incident at the border with Pakistan on Monday when at least ten Baluchis were killed and more injured. A video posted on Twitter on Monday showed heavy gunfire in a field. Some social media sources have claimed that more than 35 Baluchis were killed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, after soukhtbar (‘fuel carriers’) tried to take fuel into Pakistan.
Mohammad-Hadi Marashi, Security Deputy of Sistan-Baluchestan Governorate, on Tuesday blamed Pakistani border guards for starting the shooting. Marashi said a large group of fuel carriers returning from Pakistan formed a large crowd trying to force a checkpoint, prompting Pakistani guards to open fire – leading to one death and four injuries.
Marashi alleged that instigators on social media and “anti-revolutionary and hostile grouplets” were behind the attack on the governor’s office in Saravan.
“We have confirmation that ten people have died and five are wounded in the shooting on Monday morning,” Abdollah Aref, head of the London-based Baloch Campaign, which monitors human rights violations in Sistan-Baluchestan province told Rudaw English on Tuesday.
Abdolhamid Esmail-Zehi, Zahedan Friday prayer leader and one of Iran’s pre-eminent Sunnis, said shooting fuel mules was illegal: “Carrying fuel [to Pakistan to sell] is not a crime or smuggling. Fuel carriers are responsible for the subsistence of their families and thousands of families rely on this for their living.”
Sistan-Baluchistan province is afflicted with draught, sandstorms and monsoon floods. Alim Yarmohammadi, who represents the regional capital Zahedan in parliament, said in April 2020 that at least three quarters of people in the province lacked permanent employment and lived under the poverty line.
International rights organizations have in recent months called Iranian authorities to halt a spate of executions in Sistan-Baluchistan. UN human rights experts said on February 4 that Iran should “overturn all death sentences ordered which are contrary to international human rights law.”
Many of the Baluchi prisoners were sentenced for drug-related crime – which are not seen internationally as capital offences, although the province also has produced militant groups espousing a mixture of Baluch nationalism and al-Qaeda-influenced Sunni extremism.